Long after the homecoming parade’s candy was swept away and the Nebraska game stands were emptied, a hush fell over the crowd. Chris Botti, Grammy-winning trumpet player, stepped onto the IU Auditorium stage for his own homecoming: a concert for his alma mater.
“It is so nice to be back in Bloomington,” Botti said. “A long time ago, I left here a young trumpet player, and today I visited my old practice room, and it was like time stood still.”
In 1980, he was a young freshman music major like any other.He attended his daily classes and logged long hours in the Read Center practice rooms.
So when homecoming weekend rolled around, Botti was almost like any other former IU student. He made the pilgrimage back to his old classrooms and ordered a plate of his favorite wings from BuffaLouie’s. But he also performed a concert for thousands of his fellow Hoosiers.
In the beginning, Botti was all about the classics, whipping out fan favorites from his score of Grammy wins.
He lifted the instrument into the air and his 2004 hit “When I Fall In Love” rippled to the back row.
The crowd clapped when it first recognized the familiar tune, but then listened as their time-honored standby was transformed.
While concert jazz is a genre all about commemorating the classics, Botti and his band turned the romantic melody into a lively jam session.
“He always morphs it into something else,” said Sue Talbot, a class of ’61 alumna. “Do you have his CDs? I play them all the time and I’ve noticed on his CDs, he’ll start with something and end up with something else. It makes for a good jazz-band tune and we’re jazz enthusiasts.”
These award-winning albums may get their due credit, but Botti’s partnerships are also renowned, according to the concert’s program.
From performing with Sting, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Lady Gaga, Botti said his musical comradery also translates within his own band.
“I’m going to let you in on a little secret on why our band is different than any other group – jazz, R&B or rock ‘n’ roll,” Botti said. “Number one, we’re on time — so there goes all other jazz bands. Number two, we dress nice. And number three, and this is important, we all get along.”
While Botti was the name on the marquee, he gave each of the musicians their own time in the spotlight, starting with a solo from bassist Richie Goods.
“I believe there is a divine power that leads young musicians to their instrument because all bassists have the same trait: They all walk through life complaining because there’s not enough bass solos,” Botti said.
Violinist Lucia Micarelli also accompanied the ensemble and shared the same flair for turning classics on their heads.
Although she played a traditional piece, she stood barefoot on the stage, her movements steadily became more aggressive as she bent to the floor and shifted from foot to foot.
As the piece seemed to climax, the lighting turned red and the Harvard-bred classic violinist flipped to play Led Zeppelin’s classic rock song “Kashmere.”
Botti also gave drummer Lee Pearson a warm introduction, after which Pearson spent his solo playing blindfolded, with only one drumstick or with each drumstick crossed behind his back.
In addition to interacting with his band, Botti was intent on connecting with his audience members by inviting them to closer seats and even walking through the aisles of the auditorium.
“We’re happy you’re here and you’re welcome to take photos or videos if you’re respectful to your neighbors,” he said. “The only thing I ask is that if I screw up, fall off the stage or play a wrong note out of tune, don’t put that on YouTube, please.”
Suddenly the crowd was aglow with the screens of cell phone cameras — a special treat for regular auditorium attendees.
“I don’t usually go to jazz concerts and today was a surprise — the best show I’ve ever seen. It touched my heart and touched my soul,” junior Yongbin Jin said. “Actually, I don’t even know the name of the songs. I just listen, I enjoy, I close my eyes and let it touch me.”
Another audience member, holding a cup of beer, made her way to Botti in the aisle for a hug and a picture, then also begged the crowd not to upload the encounter to YouTube.
But in a few more songs, the phones were put away and audience members were on their feet as they swayed to the croons of Botti’s trumpet and the promise of vocalist Sy Smith’s last lyrics:
“Indiana Univeristy, can we stay together? Let’s stay together.”